United States: Advertising, Marketing & Promotions Alert >> FCC Proposes $13.3M Fine Against Sinclair Broadcast Group For Apparently Violating Sponsorship Identification Rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed to fine Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Sinclair) $13,376,200 because it apparently failed to make required disclosures regarding paid-for broadcast programming. The proposed fine is the largest ever under the FCC's sponsorship identification rules and is part of the growing trend by regulators taking serious action to ensure that relevant material information is disclosed to consumers in an appropriate manner.


Under the Communications Act of 1934 and FCC rules, a broadcaster airing a paid program must include an announcement stating that the program has been paid to air and identifying the program sponsor.

In particular, when programming is sponsored, Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212(a) of the FCC's rules require the broadcaster to announce to viewers at the time the program is aired that the broadcaster has been paid to air the programming and the identification of the sponsor. For most programming, this takes the form of a disclosure at the end of the show, such as "Promotional consideration paid for by [SPONSOR/BRAND]."

Moreover, pursuant to Section 507(c) of the Communications Act, whenever valuable consideration for the inclusion of material in a broadcast is given to or received by an entity other than the station licensee, disclosure of that fact must be made to the station licensee.

The FCC's Investigation

In April 2016, the FCC received an anonymous complaint alleging that Sinclair had aired "compensated stories as news content" about Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) on behalf of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF) but had not disclosed that HCF had paid for those stories to air.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau investigated and determined that Sinclair and HCF had entered into an agreement to promote HCF and HCI through programming broadcast on Sinclair stations and on stations to which Sinclair provided programming under various agreements. As explained by the FCC, the agreement between Sinclair and HCF provided for a multi-market campaign including 60-90 second sponsored stories about HCI made to look like independently generated news stories and 30-minute paid programs about HCI. KUTV, Sinclair's station in Salt Lake City, Utah, produced the stories and programs and transmitted them to other stations for broadcast.

The FCC's Findings

The FCC found that Sinclair apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the FCC's rules by broadcasting 1,366 on-air stories and long-form programs about HCI on 64 of its stations without an announcement disclosing that the programming was sponsored. The FCC also determined that 71 long-form programs were aired with deficient announcements – that is, with announcements that identified the programming as paid but that failed to clearly identify the sponsor of the paid program.

Next, the FCC decided that Sinclair apparently violated Section 507 of the Communications Act by failing to notify licensees of non-Sinclair stations to which it provided programming that HCF had paid to air its programming. In particular, according to the FCC, in 278 instances, these stations apparently aired no sponsorship identification announcements for the HCI paid programming, and these stations aired deficient sponsorship identification announcements that did not clearly provide the name of the program sponsor eight times.

The Proposed Forfeiture

The FCC's rules set a base forfeiture of $4,000 for violations of the FCC's sponsorship identification rules for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. The FCC decided to apply the $4,000 base forfeiture to each of Sinclair's apparent 1,723 violations, for an aggregate base forfeiture amount of $6,892,000.

It then concluded that, given the "totality of the circumstances," a "significant upward adjustment" was warranted, and it proposed a total forfeiture of $13,376,200.

Next Steps

The proposed fine is the largest ever under the FCC's sponsorship identification rules – more than three times greater than the next largest fine. Despite that, it is worth noting, two commissioners would have made the fine even larger – to over $82 million.

Sinclair can respond to the FCC's notice or pay the proposed fine. The FCC will review any written response and additional evidence it receives before determining the next steps. A forfeiture order actually imposing a fine or any settlement would require another FCC vote.

Bottom Line

The FCC's enforcement action against Sinclair for apparent failure to disclose sponsorship identification resulted in a record-setting proposed fine. This is part of a larger, recent trend by regulators ensuring that relevant material information is disclosed to consumers in an appropriate manner. Recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) involving native advertising and disclosure of material connections by influencers in social media form the other component of this trend. What they all highlight, in a basic way, is that regulators believe that consumers have a right to know when they are being advertised to, and a failure to disclose content as an ad when it isn't obvious represents a clear violation of such basic rule. Marketers, broadcasters and those in the advertising ecosystem should make certain that paid programming and any material connections are properly disclosed to consumers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions